Google bulks up Gmail with built-in search

The e-mail service gets an option for a search box that pops up results on the Gmail page. More heft to Gmail, and a new search-ad opportunity for Google.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read

Google has added the ability to search Google directly within Gmail, a move that increases the centrality of the e-mail service and gives Google a new opportunity to show advertisements.

The experimental feature, part of Gmail Labs, presents a search box to the left of a message you're composing. Typing search terms in it pops up a miniature window with a handful of results, and an individual result or its URL can be copied into the e-mail message body or into a separate message.

Google can show search results--and search ads--while you're composing a message.
Google can show search results--and search ads--while you're composing a message. The 'sponsored links' text on the upper left refers to the ads already shown in the Gmail message window. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Programmer Adam de Boor detailed the feature on Thursday in a Gmail blog post.

There are two things I find interesting about this move. First, it reflects the increasing breadth of what can be done in Gmail besides just e-mail. The company has added instant messaging and video chat, which being communication mechanisms are conceptually similar to e-mail, but also through an open-ended gadget interface has enabled links to Google Calendar, Google Docs, and third-party services such as Twitter.

Clearly, Google wants to let people spend more time living within the confines of Gmail.

Second, the feature lets Google show more search ads, the company's bread and butter. To an extent, this is likely a wash, since the same ads would show if a person moved to a separate browser tab or window to run the search, but it's also possible that having a convenient search box will mean that people will search when they didn't before.

Gmail sometimes shows ads to the right of the message body based on the text in the message itself, using the same technology Google uses for its AdSense service, which places ads on third-party sites. Todd Jackson, product manager for Gmail, said the click-through rate for Gmail ads is about the same on Gmail as on third-party sites and that "it's a good source of revenue for us."

However, an April study by Efficient Frontier showed that Google's search ads show much better click-through rates than AdSense ads. That's important, because advertisers pay Google only when a person clicks on those ads. The rate was 2.4 percent for Google's search ads but only 0.2 percent for AdSense ads.

Click-through rates are on the rise overall for search ads.
Click-through rates are on the rise overall for search ads. Efficient Frontier